May 25, 2018

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If you love me, let me go

We recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love for Israel and a desire to save it. – Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.”

I have something to say to the Jewish-American “we love Israel but we know what is good for you better than you do” crowd:

Stop it.

You don’t know better than we do. Even if you know a lot. And even if you did know better, you don’t have the right to tell us what to do.

Israel is a democracy. That means that the Knesset and the Prime Minister are chosen by its citizens. Even with 20% of those citizens being Arabs, we chose Benjamin Netanyahu to form our government. You don’t think that was a wise choice; I get that. But can you deny us the right to make that choice?

You say that our country is becoming less democratic. So you want to fix that by intervening in our politics?

You demand that we should “make peace,” or “end the Occupation,” or grant the “Palestinians” their “rights.” But do you know that only a minority of Jewish Israelis agree with you that withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is a good idea? Only 29% agree with the “moderate” idea of withdrawal to the Green Line with land swaps for the large settlement blocks!

The Israeli political party whose foreign policy most closely matches the views of J Street or the Union for Reform Judaism is Meretz. Meretz won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Only five, even though some of its domestic policies are relatively popular. There is a reason for that.

What do you, living in America, know that the majority of Jewish Israelis don’t? After all, they have to serve in the army or send their children to do it. Do you know what it feels like to know that your son (and lately, daughter) who is serving in a combat unit is on a battlefield in a hostile country? It really makes you care about the quality of your national leadership.

You don’t like the policies of our government. That’s your right. I think you’re misinformed, but go ahead and have whatever opinions you like about our government, yours, or North Korea’s. But you go farther. You say that as Jews you have a special right not only to criticize us, but to tell us how to behave. That’s ridiculous.

Yes, Israel views herself as the homeland of the Jewish people, and Israel will grant citizenship to any Diaspora Jew that asks for it. This degree of openness to immigration is uncommon, but came about because of the unique history of persecution of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply that potential citizens have a right to determine Israeli policy. Ireland will grant citizenship on request to someone with a grandparent who was born there, but eligible Irish-Americans don’t insist on the right to determine the policy of their ancestral home.

You are fond of telling us that your patience is running short and you will stop supporting us if we don’t do what you tell us. But that “support” is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Financial support is already politically targeted. I was the treasurer of a small Jewish Federation belonging to the Jewish Federations of North America. I was explicitly told by officials of the national organization that no Federation funds would support projects in Judea and Samaria, and that there are procedures in place to ensure that money given by JFNA to the Jewish Agency was not spent in “settlements.” Large independent federations like New York, Chicago, Boston, and others also limit the use of their funds in this way (J Street actually complained that in some cases they do it but don’t admit this publicly!)

You also contribute to J Street and the New Israel Fund, organizations that sharply criticize Israeli policy and try to get the US to pressure Israel, or fund NGOs that do. And you strongly supported Barack Obama in both of his elections, despite the fact that he was the US president least supportive of Israel since the founding of the state (even Jimmy Carter’s policies as president were not as bad).

At this point I want to distinguish the distressed “lovers,” like the academics responsible for the quotation at the beginning of this post or the Reform Movement leaders who invariably declare their love before bashing Israel, from the haters who skip the ritual profession of love, and claim that Judaism justifies siding with Israel’s enemies — for example, the members of “If Not Now” and Jewish Voice for Peace.

I too am a strong Zionist, so I think a lot about what’s right and wrong about my country. Every day I thank God for the privilege of living here. But it bothers me that my daughter can’t afford to buy her own apartment because real estate prices are insane. It bothers me to know that my children and grandchildren are within rocket range of our enemies (all of us are). It bothers me to know that unless something unforeseen happens, there will be a major war within the next few years in which many Israelis and Arabs will die. It bothers me to know that Haredim are blocking traffic because they think they have a right to live in the state of the Jewish people but not the obligation to help defend it. A lot of stuff bothers me, and when we have elections, I try to sort it all out and vote for the party that I think represents the best balance of policies and people to deal with these issues.

So here is what I think: stop trying to help us be better people, because it is much more complicated than you think. There are a lot of things in the USA that are, shall we say, suboptimal, that you can work on. There are ways that you can make your country fairer and more democratic. There are Americans who can’t exercise the rights guaranteed them in the constitution. There are even people who don’t have enough to eat.

Let me know when you’ve fixed that stuff and we’ll talk about improving Israel.

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